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Boston unveils monument to Puerto Rican veterans

Under a clear blue sky Tuesday, the city of Boston unveiled a monument to Puerto Rican veterans during a ceremony in the South End in front of a crowd of about 100. A floral wreath shaped like the Puerto Rican flag adorned the monument.

Jessica Rinaldi For The Boston Globe

Under a clear blue sky Tuesday, the city of Boston unveiled a monument to Puerto Rican veterans during a ceremony in the South End in front of a crowd of about 100. A floral wreath shaped like the Puerto Rican flag adorned the monument.

With the slight tug of a tarp Tuesday afternoon, Boston’s current mayor and its future leader unveiled the city’s new Puerto Rican veterans monument in the South End, a first-of-its kind memorial that has been years in the making.

The crowd of more than 100 people, including many veterans, broke into cheers in both English and Spanish as the monument, located at the corner of Washington and West Dedham streets, was revealed and adorned with a floral wreath fashioned in the style of the Puerto Rican flag.

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The monument, the first public memorial in the nation honoring Puerto Rican veterans, depicts two soldiers, one male and one female, and includes an inscription that reads: “La libertad no es gratis,” or “Freedom is not free.”

“The first Puerto Rican veterans monument in the whole country,” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “Today we honor our Puerto Rican veterans who have fought in every war in the history of this country. You know, we don’t say enough, thank you to the veterans.”

The construction of the monument, which sits on a slim plot of land across the street from the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, brought to a conclusion a 15-year effort by several local veterans.

The veterans secured the land from the city and spent more than a decade raising more than $100,000 to pay for the monument’s construction.

“These things don’t happen just because they happen. They happen because people stand up, because people get engaged, because people celebrate, and because people say that they want something to happen,” said state Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, who helped secure state funding for the memorial.

Dozens of elected officials attended the event, including city councilors Charles Yancey, Bill Linehan, Felix G. Arroyo, Tito Jackson, and Ayanna Pressley, as well as state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz and former US Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez.

“Boston is making history today,” said Antonio “Tony” Molina, a Marine veteran and Purple Heart recipient. Molina served as the monument project’s director.

The event also marked one of the first joint public appearances by Menino and Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh.

Menino, who has spent countless hours during his 20-year tenure at monument dedications and ribbon cuttings, stood smiling as speaker after speaker praised his efforts to help construct the memorial.

When it was his turn to address the crowd, Walsh vowed to help raise the additional money needed to pay for the monument, which cost roughly $250,000. “Everything that you need for this monument, I will make sure that we take care of it,” he said.

Wesley Lowery can be reached at wesley.lowery@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @WesleyLowery.
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